The One Biceps Exercise Wasting Your Time — and 3 to Try Instead

Get the most out of your biceps workout and skip the barbell curls.
Image Credit: JGI/Tom Grill/Tetra images/GettyImages

Whether you're looking to build strength or just want to look better in a tank top (or both), you won't want to skimp on biceps exercises. But doing the right moves is just as beneficial as filling your upper-body workout with tons of biceps supersets — if not moreso.

To get the most out of your upper-body workouts, skip the barbell curl and opt for a standing dumbbell curl, incline curl and/or spider curl to strengthen and sculpt your biceps.

Why You Should Skip the Barbell Curl

Although there's no bad biceps exercise necessarily, some moves make it easier to commit some common errors. The barbell curl is one move you perform with caution (or skip entirely), according to Samuel Chan, certified athletic trainer and physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York. Here's why:

1. People Tend to Swing the Barbell

Swinging the weights is one of the most common biceps exercise errors Chan sees people make. Using momentum to curl the barbell causes your elbows to shift away from the sides, which takes the work out of the biceps.

To fix this mistake, lower the weight you're lifting until you can perform each rep with the strength of your biceps, rather than the momentum of the weight. Using a mirror can also help you catch any unwanted movement of the elbows.

2. Or Only Work Partial Range of Motion

Unless you're performing your biceps moves with a full range of motion — from the arm fully extended to the elbow fully bent — you're cheating yourself out of the exercise's benefits, Chan says.

"The end ranges of any motion are typically the weakest, so don't simply work mid-range and perform half curls," says Chan, noting that it's easier to do this with a barbell. "Fully curl, then fully extend your elbow with each rep to get the most benefit our of your biceps exercises."

3. Plus, It's Hard on Your Wrists

Lastly, using a barbell can be taxing on the wrist, causing pain or discomfort, as you're unable to bend or flex your wrists as usual, Chan says.

Instead, Chan recommends you substitute the barbell with an EZ-bar instead. Because of this bar's grooves, the EZ-bar will place the elbow and wrist in a more comfortable position. Or, try some more effective exercises (keep reading).

Try These 3 Biceps Exercises Instead

The best biceps exercises will hit your upper arm from different angles, Chan says. Since your biceps is a two-muscle joint, crossing both the elbow and the shoulder, you can lift weights in slightly different positions to get a better workout.

You also want to select exercises that enable you to contract as much of the muscle as possible. The more of the muscle you're able to activate and use during your workout, the stronger your biceps will become, according to the American Council on Exercise.

Choose weights that allow you to perform each exercise with good form. You want your biceps exercise to feel comfortably challenging.

1. Standing Dumbbell Curl

1. Standing Dumbbell Curl
Image Credit:
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Arms
  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. With a flat back, elbows pinned to your sides, curl the weights up to your shoulders.
  3. Lower the weights back to your sides with control, keeping the elbows locked at your ribs.

2. Spider Curl

2. Spider Curl
Image Credit:
Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Arms
  1. Set a bench to an incline and grab a pair of dumbbells.
  2. Stand over the bench and lie on your stomach on the bench with your arms hanging toward the floor.
  3. With your elbows close to your sides, curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders.
  4. Lower the weights back toward the floor with control.


This exercise starts with the biceps in a shortened position, since the shoulder is flexed, Chan says. This is a more effective exercise that maximizes muscle tension when compared to the preacher curl (a move that also keeps the biceps shortened).

3. Incline Curl

3. Incline Curl
Image Credit:
Skill Level Advanced
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Arms
  1. Begin seated on an incline bench with your back flat against it, a pair of dumbbells in each hand.
  2. Root your heels into the ground and pull your shoulders down and back.
  3. With your elbows close to your sides, curl the weights up to your shoulder.
  4. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.